Marley, a floppy-eared beagle rescued from a puppy mill, was the star of the show last Friday morning at the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons adoption center in Wainscott. He jumped around, sniffed everything, generally looked cute in the way that beagles tend to do — and, at the same time, brought attention to the puppy mills that are at the center of a piece of legislation awaiting a signature from New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul.
State Senator Anthony Palumbo, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, and a representative from Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.’s office joined Marley and animal-rescue advocates who turned out at ARF to demand that Governor Hochul sign S.1130, a bill to end the so-called “puppy-mill pipeline” that has sent untold numbers of unhealthy and abused cats, dogs, and rabbits to New York State retail pet shops.
“If people understood that buying a cat, dog, or rabbit is directly related to animal abuse,” said Scott Howe, ARF’s executive director and chief executive officer, “we wouldn’t condone that industry in our own backyard, and what we’re doing by buying cats and dogs in retail stores is supporting that industry.”
The bill specifically “prohibits the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits by retail pet shops,” according to its text, and paves the way for organizations to collaborate to “provide space to showcase cats or dogs . . . for the purpose of adoption.”
The New York State Senate has twice passed similar bills that stalled in the Assembly due to members’ pushback over business impacts. The Puppy Mill Pipeline Act cleared the Assembly hurdle this session while a Senate vote saw the bill pass with overwhelming support. The five “no” votes in the State Senate came from upstate Republicans.
Mr. Howe explained the Assembly issue was tied to the fact that there are “well-intentioned people for whom pet stores selling cats and dogs is their livelihood. It’s a livelihood and an economic issue, but that’s no excuse for animal abuse.”
Mr. Palumbo also decried the puppy mill industry during the press conference and said that “if consumers had any idea about the atrocities that do take place with these puppy mills, they’d be here by the thousands with torches and pitchforks.”
The industry is concentrated largely in Missouri and the Midwest generally and has long been a thorn in the side of state animal rights activists who have tried, unsuccessfully, to get New York lawmakers to move on this issue. Missouri lawmakers briefly banned puppy mills in their state about a decade ago, but the law was overturned under pressure from business interests there.
Now that the New York State bill has passed both houses in Albany, animal-rights activists have brought the hard sell directly to the governor’s doorstep. The New York State Animal Protection Federation organized a mass mailing earlier this year that saw more than 10,000 residents send postcards featuring photos of puppy-mill dogs to the governor’s mansion in Albany.
Libby Post, executive director of the federation, said the governor shouldn’t be swayed by the state’s business lobby.
“Of the $123.6 billion spent on pets in the United States, less than two percent comes from the sale of puppies, kittens, and rabbits,” Ms. Post said in a statement, adding that this was “an opportunity for these pet stores to rebrand as humane businesses.”
Ms. Post suggested broad support for the bill this year “shows that the last bastion of nonpartisanship is puppies and kittens.”
California banned retail pet sales in 2017. Maryland followed a year later, and more than 300 cities and counties have also moved to ban puppy-mill sales, including Philadelphia and Boston, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Proponents of the New York bill stress that existing pet stores could partner with shelters and rescue centers such as ARF, which is in the middle of a big expansion and upgrade of its facility as it approaches its 50-year milestone in 2024.
Mr. Palumbo also pointed out that the bill’s intention is not to put scrupulous New York breeders out of business — a point further illuminated by Pam Green, director of the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton.
Ms. Green said she’d been in the animal-rescue business for 35 years and that her shelter was “on the receiving end of many puppy-mill rescues with the horrible condition that breeder dogs are in after having spent years at these puppy mills across the country.”
She stressed that “there are reputable breeders in New York State,” even as she noted that out-of-state commercial breeders comprise a multimillion-dollar industry that has sent millions of animals to pet shops across New York.
“I think we’ve finally come to a point,” said Ms. Green, “where the legislators are realizing and have been educated about those breeding operations.”
Mr. Palumbo, a Republican and former Suffolk County prosecutor and assistant district attorney whose Senate website promotes a priority of “getting our economy back on track post-pandemic so our small businesses can thrive,” said there’s “always a balance” when squaring righteous public policy initiatives with business impacts.
“If an inappropriate thing is being done, business doesn’t always win,” Mr. Palumbo said. “When it gets to the border of illegal activity,” he added, “the former prosecutor in me kicks in.”
Mr. Palumbo said he was reluctant to use the “unkind ‘special interest’ word” when asked for his prediction on what Governor Hochul may or may not do. “For what reason would this not be signed?” he wondered. “I can’t imagine if she doesn’t sign it — but there will be a real issue if she doesn’t, since it’s passed in both houses this time.”
Avi White, a spokesperson with Governor Hochul’s press office, responded to a set of puppy-mill inquiries on Friday with an email stating that the governor “is reviewing the legislation.”